The Pirate's Daughter, by Margaret Cezair-Thompson

What might have been when a rake came ashore

It is 1946. A hurricane blows the yacht Zaca off-course and shipwrecks its skipper, the swashbuckling movie star Errol Flynn, near the Jamaican town of Port Antonio. He is jaded, and fleeing a decaying marriage and charges of statutory rape. Desperate for a refuge, he is instantly captivated by the island's wild beauty. In its turn, Jamaica is besotted with Flynn: his arrival provokes hysteria, lurid media headlines ("Flynn Fans Fracas!") and fainting women. Concluding that the island is his spiritual home, the actor decides to purchase a property there.

So far so true, but this is just a launch pad from which the Jamaican-born writer, Margaret Cezair-Thompson, creates a wonderful confection in which Flynn becomes enmeshed in island life. He befriends a local Justice of the Peace whose 13-year-old daughter, Ida, develops a breathless crush on "the Handsomest Man in The World". To her fury, he treats her like a kid... until she turns 16.

It is the offspring of their brief and ill-fated liaison, May, who then hijacks the narrative. The pirate's daughter of the title, she resembles Flynn physically and in personality. Headstrong, adventurous, sensual, she lives with the same reckless confusion as her reluctant parent. Her struggles dominate the book as she attempts to survive her illegitimate status and racial confusion (she appears white but is mixed race), as well as the tumultuous fluctuations of Jamaican history. (She will have a special ring of authenticity for Jamaican readers, since lore has long claimed that Flynn left a legion of illegitimate children there.)

If the celebrity hook for this novel is Flynn, it is Jamaica that steals the show. The author, now based in the US, writes with the evocative intensity of nostalgic exile. We travel to the cloud-shrouded Blue Mountains, where the renowned coffee is produced, across to the nervy urbanity of the capital, Kingston, and back to the legendary Blue Hole, the crater of an ancient volcano, where Flynn disastrously tried to make a movie. Cezair-Thompson lovingly describes the island's beaches with their white sand lined with vibrant casurina, purple Otaheite apples and vegetation so lush that in some places the soil isn't visible. Her descriptions of food – steaming calaloo soup, spicy jerk pork, fluffy rice and peas – make the mouth water.

The island's political history is intelligently and subtly interwoven. Beginning just after the Second World War, the author takes us through its development: the first stirrings of nationalism, the achievement of independence, the impact of the Bay of Pigs, the decaying political situation and violence of the Seventies. Against this febrile backdrop, the author's large cast of characters unfolds convincingly. It includes both real historical figures, such as Noël Coward and Marilyn Monroe, and fictional characters, poor Jamaicans whose exploits are as outrageous as their famous visitors.

The book helps to correct the view propagated by those, such as VS Naipaul, who claim that Caribbean islands have no history. Instead, Cezair-Thompson presents an island almost crushed by the weight of its long and tortured past. Throughout, we are reminded of the exterminated Amerindians who first inhabited the island, the lawless pirates and buccaneers who used it as a refuge, the violent and torrid story of settlement and slavery. No wonder the Flynn character concludes: "Such a small place, and so much history."

Far from describing a dull, static society, the author vividly demonstrates how exciting and eventful small places like Jamaica can be, where black and white, and rich and poor, live together in intense proximity. It is this, more than anything else, that makes this novel such a success. It isn't flawless – the prologue, for example, is confusing and redundant – but the breathtaking pace and verve of The Pirate's Daughter make it a delight; a touch of summer reading in a grim winter.

Headline Review £19.99 (512pp) £17.99 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee